Ministers and high-level officials in Asia-Pacific have committed to advance regional economic cooperation and integration (RECI) to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The ministerial declaration adopted at the conclusion of the United Nations conference in Bangkok today requested the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) to continue building Member States’ RECI-related programmes as well as building and strengthening its partnerships with other relevant organizations, institutions and initiatives to promote RECI.
Governments at the Second Ministerial Conference on RECI, jointly organized by ESCAP and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), have agreed to continue working together across four key areas. These include: promoting market integration by striving to reduce trade costs through trade facilitation, and addressing trade protectionism; developing seamless connectivity across the region in transport, energy and ICT; enhancing financial cooperation in domestic resource mobilization, financial inclusion, capital markets and public -private partnerships; and addressing shared vulnerabilities and risks to mitigate the impact of disasters, environment degradation and climate change.
With a combined GDP of US$27.25 trillion that is growing rapidly, Asia-Pacific is well on its way to becoming the largest market in the world, opening possibilities for further expansion of trade and investment within the region. This could help boost economic growth, create jobs and reduce poverty. However, to take advantage of such opportunities, participants recognized that the region needs to enhance RECI. They highlighted that RECI should be consistent with the principle of leaving no one behind and that it must be consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals in contributing to social progress and environment sustainability.
Addressing the ministerial segment of the conference, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar said, “Over the past three decades, RECI has benefited our region significantly – powering trade, economic growth and stability. To help arrest the growing discontent with globalization and to dispel unfounded criticisms of free trade, global value chains and labour migration, RECI must be inclusive. It must contribute to reducing rising inequalities by offering opportunities for marginalized countries and people.”
Dr Akhtar added that several key principles should underpin efforts to take RECI a step further. “Priority assistance must be given to countries with special needs – including through capacity building and technical assistance – to ensure they can take full advantage of deep economic integration. For example, as countries move towards the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or embark on Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, it is essential they undertake a sustainability impact analysis of their membership in such mega-regional endeavors to design and execute negotiation mandates that will result in development oriented provisions in line with long term sustainable development goals and aspirations for shared prosperity. Also, gender equality, and female participation in our economies should be hardwired into RECI work. And we must improve our ability to measure our progress by strengthening the quality of our data and statistical systems across Asia and the Pacific. Member states can count on ESCAP to continue driving the RECI agenda forward as a key means of implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.”
Participants acknowledged that a re-think of the entire approach to cooperation and integration is needed – from traditional RECI policies and frameworks that tend to be ‘growth-centric’ to an innovative approach that incorporates social and environmental considerations. For this purpose, the narrative of the 2030 Agenda needs to gain further traction in the work of all cooperation initiatives – to become the dominant approach of our age.